Anyone who knows me knows I’m wildly obsessed with anything that has to do with The B-52s. So when I got a chance to visit The B’s hometown of Athens, GA –- I fully immersed myself in the experience. I’ve wanted to visit this sleepy college town since I was in college – which is right around the same time The B’s found mainstream success with “Cosmic Thing”.
For me, this was a long overdue, once-in-a-lifetime trip. So much to see, so much to do. It was a Southern Shangri-La.
Turns out – along with historic and museum tours – the Athens Welcome Center offers an amazing music tour chock full of insider knowledge. Our tour guide Paul was the perfect person for the job. He moved to Athens in 1977 just as the music scene – and the New Wave era – was taking off. His claim to fame, you ask? He was a drummer in a group called Side Effects – and his band opened for R.E.M.’s first official concert.
Paul is an unassuming fellow — low-key, but ebullient. He sports a Santa Claus-gone-wild white beard and a polite hippy aura that suits him well. In the nearly 40 years he’s lived there, it appears he’s been unduly influenced by Georgia’s penchant for southern charm and hospitality. Of course, I was more worried that Paul was going to keel over from heat stroke. It was a stifling, humid 99 degrees the day we traipsed from venue to venue. Shade was your friend that day … as was the random light breeze. Good thing we got an early start.
One of his opening salvos immediately made me pay attention. “In the 1800’s,” he said … “people who were looking for culture came to Athens.” Who knew this town had been an artistic hotbed for so long? The city has a long-standing reputation as an arts and music Mecca.
For me, however, being in the city was more like Nirvana. (Uh, the place of perfect peace and happiness … not to be confused with the ’90’s grunge rock band. That’s a different music tour.)
We hoofed it around Athens for over two hours. My mouth was agape for most of the tour because it felt as if the mother ship had called me home. “Remember the album ‘Automatic for the People?’” Paul quizzed me. “Well, there’s the restaurant that album was named after, Weaver D’s Delicious Fine Food. Some of the best fried chicken you’ll ever eat.”
Paul – sensing that I was a huge nerd – even let us recreate some of the famous album cover artwork shot both in and out of the city limits. There I was in the corner. There I was in the spotlight. I was losing my religion … and my ever-lovin’ mind.
Every time I turned around – there was an imminently recognizable landmark. (Well, to me, that is.) When Paul clued us in on Athen’s aptly named “Hot Corner”, I laughed. “That’s a B-52s song!” I chimed in. There was so much history behind this compact street corner … I felt like I was at ground zero for Athen’s music movement. When Paul took us to the house where the B’s played their informal, inaugural concert, my brain exploded. Then he dropped another bombshell … Paul had lived there off and on for fifteen years and had pictures from that infamous Valentine Day performance.
Paul has seen it all. According to him, he’s “given nearly 200 tours” during his stint as Athen’s resident music history aficionado. His back-stories have back-stories – so you better listen to everything he has to say.
I’ll admit – I tried to stump Paul several times during our tour. He had an answer for everything – and then some. More on that in part two!